By Jerry Wennstrom | Posted 5/16/23 | Updated 8/6/23
The first person to call after I destroyed my art was Dr. Jean Houston. I am not sure who told her what I had done, because so few people knew about it at that point. It may have been Deborah Koff-Chapin, who knew Jean and had once painted a portrait of her with Margaret Mead.
Jean's husband, Dr. Robert Masters, had taken an interest in my art previously. He invited me to the mysterious experimental laboratory he set up in the unusual Henry Varnum Poor house that they rented from actor Burgess Meredith. Robert was interested in having me work with him on the mind research and LSD experiments he was doing at the time.
Jean knew I had been fasting prior to destroying the art, and I believe she was genuinely concerned about my state of mind. However, I found with the urgency in her voice and the questions she asked that she thought I had "gone off the deep end." She hoped the UN painting, One, had survived. It was gone.
Prior to destroying my art, Jean brought her mentor, Margaret Mead, to my studio. Dr. Mead was excited by what I was doing and asked if she might bring a visiting museum curator from Copenhagen the following week, with the hope he might show my paintings at his museum. However, when the curator saw my art, he compared it to the works of the "Monster Painters" of Chicago — artists like Leon Golub, June Leaf, and Seymour Rosofsky.
Dr. Mead wasn't happy with his critical assessment of my work. As they were leaving, she turned to me, almost in defiance, and exclaimed loudly, "It is good to see there is a true religious artist emerging in the world!"
Shortly after I destroyed my art, a film crew arrived at my loft. A documentary film, which eventually was called The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom, had been in progress for several years. They came to film the most recent paintings I had been working on, which were a new group of the 80 double-sided Angels and Demons hanging panels.
The morning they arrived, they found my Nyack studio curiously bare and empty. They stared at me questioningly. I was at peace with what I had done, and I dare say, inspired at having destroyed my paintings. However, I was not sure how I was going to translate this most liberating experience to the film crew. I sensed that if this one act had liberated and made me come more alive, then it would do the same for others. I do know this to ultimately be true. However, in retrospect, I was naive in thinking, in the raw period right after destroying my art, that everyone would understand.
Gallery owner David Weinrib told me years after I destroyed my art, "When I heard what you had done, my first impulse was to run to the dump to salvage something. However, I restrained myself, and after thinking about what it must have meant for you to do that, I decided to honor your decision."
With everything gone, I was walking away from art completely, thinking I would have nothing more to do with it nor with the film. Throughout the filmmaking process, I had been only minimally involved anyway; and now, with nothing left to shoot, further participation seemed to me unnecessary. Originally, the documentary was focused more on my art than on my life. Of course, when I destroyed my art, that changed. The filmmakers decided to interview me about this unexpected turn of events, and this made the film as much about my life as about my art.
Many who worked on that original film were also involved with the creation of In The Hands Of Alchemy, produced some twenty-two years later! We all laughed then when Mark Sadan, a filmmaker involved with both projects, told me that when I destroyed my art, he was afraid that I might destroy the film, too, if I had access to it! I was not kept informed of their progress as he and Deborah Koff-Chapin (the other filmmaker)continued their work on the film.
Several months after I destroyed my art, the film was completed; and its debut was slated for a premiere at a savvy artsy establishment called Thorp Intermedia Center, created by David Weinrib. It was established in the old Garnerville church, in Rockland County, outside New York City
David and Sister Adele Myers previously displayed my Angels and Demons panels. Considerable creative stir went on around David's gallery, and many well-known artists frequented the events. David and his wife, Joanne, also had their home and studio in the building.
David produced the events in the sanctuary area of the large open space of the church. He brought in many artists, visual and otherwise, from the larger New York art scene for both his art center and for the convent's Thorpe Intermedia Gallery, of which he was a cofounder.
By Thomas Moore, author, Care of the Soul
Jerry's insights show all the traces of the world's ancient wisdom, though he uses his own hand-crafted images and words.
In an illustrated version of the Sufi tale "Mojud: The Man with the Inexplicable Life," Mojud starts out as an inspector of weights and measures but then receives several visits from the spirit guide Khidr. Each time his life settles, the spirit appears with a new adventure.
Everyone thinks Mojud is mad, but with a sacred simple-mindedness he empties his will and follows directions. Finally, the story says, "Clerics, philosophers and others visited him and asked, 'Under whom did you study?' 'It is difficult to say,' said Mojud."
I think Khidr must have visited Jerry Wennstrom a few times, too.
©2022 by Jerry Wennstrom. All rights reserved.
Artist and writer Jerry Wennstrom was born in New York, where he lived-out the first half of his prolific art career. The superficial post-Andy Warhol-Soho-art-scene in the late '70s repelled him. ...